Upper Iowa University STEM partnership provides food for thought

The Upper Iowa University Baton Rouge Center has partnered with Copper Mill Elementary teachers in Zachary, La., to further promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programming and projects with young students.

“We want to reach out to local schools to increase the enthusiasm and engagement of students in STEM courses and experiential learning at an early age,” explained Cynthia Bentley, UIU Baton Rouge Center director. “STEM-related careers are in high demand in the Baton Rouge area and we want to encourage more students to enter into these fields of study.

“Our main goal is to help the local schools by forming partnerships and providing financial resources to encourage students to further investigate these fields of education. At the same time, the University hopes that at these younger ages the students come to realize science and math courses can be fun,” she added.

In an effort to further educate the students of Aimeé Perrodin’s 5th grade science classroom on environmental topics, Bentley helped develop the Copper Mill Elementary Greenhouse Project.

As part of the Greenhouse Project, the students were assembled in groups of two and provided supplies to engineer a working mini-greenhouse. In addition to constructing the greenhouses, the pupils planted the seeds, watered the plants, and transplanted plants whenever possible. Over a two-month period, the class actually grew four rounds of plants from their seeds.

Among the challenges the students worked to overcome was that several of the greenhouses did not seal properly, which caused poor growth compared to others. Other two-member teams had to replant seeds because the greenhouse effect did not provide enough water. Due to changes to the class schedule during the spring testing period, the students also found it difficult to find enough time to properly maintain the sprouts.

“The students learned to design, engineer, problem solve, and redesign throughout the process. Different soils were eventually needed because some seeds just did not grow. This led to several experiments and the project actually developed into a Mother’s Day gift,” said Perrodin. “The students seemed to especially enjoy the design process and to have the opportunity to view firsthand their successful sprouted plants. Several students even went home to recreate the project with other materials.”

UIU also provided support in Perrodin’s classroom with “How to Turn Produce into Veggie Power!” As part of its partnership, the local university purchased potato clocks and an environmental battery to help the students study energy in the environment. An additional STEM activity, “Natural Verses Artificial: Can You Taste the Difference?” was also sponsored in the classroom of Copper Mill Elementary math teacher Ashley Townsend.

“In addition to Mrs. Bentley being instrumental in formulating a plan for our science topic, Upper Iowa made it possible for us to access the needed supplies without having to ask the students’ parents for funding or materials for the project,” added Perrodin. “The more support I have to provide these resources, the more students I can reach with engaging activities.”

While she plans to conduct a similar project in her classroom during the next school year, Perrodin is also considering implementing LEGO® kits and robotics for a variety of math- and science-related topics she traditionally teaches.

“I believe stem education supports students and prepares them for competitive career options. I find this type of group study was more successful because they were more engaged,” said Perrodin. “The rigorous stem challenges are academically reinforced throughout the year as something we can always reflect on in building new knowledge.” Due to the success of these programs, Bentley and the UIU Baton Rouge Center eagerly anticipates continuing to assist with similar activities at the Louisiana elementary school in the fall.

Upper Iowa University opened its Baton Rouge Center in July 2012.  The center is located on the Louisiana State Police Training Academy Campus and is available to anyone seeking to obtain a college degree. The six eight-week terms offered each academic year are taught in the evenings to minimize disruption to working adult learners. The University’s transfer policy maximizes previous credit from other colleges and universities, and for civilian, military, and law enforcement experience.

For more information about Upper Iowa University’s Baton Rouge Center, please call 225-923-2331 or email batonrouge@uiu.edu.

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